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People in dogs... Clare Balding

Clare Balding and her Tibetan Terrier ‘Archie’

Clare Balding is a household name in horse racing circles. Bred in the purple, she hails from a racing background, born 29th January, 1971, the year the brilliant “Mill Reef” won the Derby. He was trained by her father Ian, at Park House Stables, Kingsclere, in the Berkshire village made famous by the great horse as well as the novel Watership Down.

Cambridge graduate Clare, who writes a sports column for the Observer, won the Radio & Television Society Award for Sport Presenter of the Year 2003. A former amateur champion jockey, she was Champion Lady Rider in l990. This multi-talented individual is a radio broadcaster as well as one of the BBC’s top racing and sports presenters, thus encompassing a wide variety of programmes including Crufts.

Born under the star sign of Aquarius, the defining characteristic of this sign is independence, particularly manifested in their intellectual originality and progressiveness, she shares her birthday with the likes of W.C. Fields (1880) Sacha Distel (1933) Germaine Greer (1939) and Oprah Winfrey (1953).

Clare owns a Tibetan Terrier, featured recently with her on the CRUFTS programme.
Here, OUR DOGS’ Features Editor Helen Davenport asks Clare about her life in dogs:

Clare, although racing has long been at the heart of family life for the Baldings, did you come from a doggie household?

Yes, my parents had boxers and lurchers. My father’s mother had owned poodles, which Dad always said were fabulous with the racehorses and my mother’s mother had labradors and whippets.

What are your first recollections of dogs?

I grew up in the company of Candy, who was a matriarchal boxer, Bertie, who was a very handsome golden long haired lurcher with a beautiful smooth head and Cindy, who was a brindle lurcher.

When did you first own one?

Candy had a few litters of puppies but we only ever kept one, a bitch called Flossy who was ‘mine’. My brother always pretended that she had no character but he was lying. I adored her and she was my best friend for most of my childhood.

Who were your mentors and what is your reason(s) for your choice?

I met John Inverdale when I was 17 and he asked me into Radio 5 (as it was then) to watch him present Sport on 5. I thought it was a fabulous job. I admire plenty of sports journalists including Simon Barnes, Sue Mott and Paul Kimmage and originally I wanted to write but the opportunity to work in radio presented itself and although I have always written sporadically, TV and radio have taken precedence.

When did you get your break into television?

In 1995 or 1996 I got a screen test for BBC Racing, who were looking for a new female reporter. It was utterly sexist and I freely admit that I benefited from positive discrimination but given that women had been precluded from sports broadcasting for decades, I’m not sure it was wrong. I started as a sidekick to Julian Wilson, who then decided to step aside in 1998 and I was promoted to the role of main presenter. It was a pretty brave step by Brian Barwick, who was then Head of Sport as I had only ever presented one live programme at the time.

What year did you first present the Crufts programme?

That was 2005. I co-presented with Richard Hammond that year. Sadly I had to miss 2006 as I was in Melbourne for the Commonwealth Games but luckily I was allowed back on board for 2007.
What prompted you to own a Tibetan Terrier?

I saw Dora Bryan on a TV programme about dog training. Her dog was such a character and seemed a substantial size without being too big for London.

Do you think the success of Ch Araki Fabulous Willie at Crufts will adversely affect the breed by bringing it to the attention of the general public?

There is always a dilemma for fans of particular breeds because they want their breed to be popular and to have a wide enough gene pool for it to be as strong as possible and yet they do not want dogs being sold to the ‘wrong’ people. I think the onus is on breeders to vet their potential purchasers and to be careful to whom they sell. It is a very hard thing to police but I would hate to put people off having a TT as they are such wonderful dogs.

Your repartee with Willie Carson (BBC Racing) is very entertaining; you make a great double act!! Do you see yourself forming a similar alliance with any of the Crufts presenters for the BBC?
I really enjoyed working with the team at Crufts and I get on very well with Frank, Jessica and Wayne who are all incredibly generous with their knowledge and teach me something new every day. I particularly enjoyed working with Matt Baker, who is a very talented live presenter and working alongside Ben Fogle was good fun too.

To some degree the world of dogs mirrors the horse world. Could you ever see yourself in the role of dog breeder/exhibitor/handler campaigning dogs up and down the country?

I would love one day to be more involved in breeding dogs but I find showing of either horses or dogs rather stressful as the judges never seem to agree with my view that my own animal is the best looking in the ring! I’m not sure I have the temperament to deal with the disappointments.
In some circles dog showing is regarded as detrimental to the welfare of breeds. Do you have any opinions on this?

I think it is vitally important to the future of all breeds that there is a breed standard and that this is held up as the benchmark for each breed of dog. Showing is one of the few ways in which responsible breeding can be publicly rewarded. I think, used properly, dog showing is beneficial, rather than detrimental, to the breed.

Tell us about your charities.

I split my time between a number of charities, including RehabUK which helps re-train people who have had brain injuries so that they can regain their independence; Riding for the Disabled; the Injured Jockeys Fund; the Helen Rollason Heal Cancer Charity; the Bobby Moore Fund; the British Lung Foundation and this year I am helping out with the MacMillan Cancer Support Wonder Walks. They are taking place through the summer and aim to raise £1 million for cancer care.
Have you any unfulfilled ambitions?

Plenty. I would love to write a novel.

Any pet hates?


What has been your biggest disappointment?

I constantly disappoint myself. Every time I make a mistake or don’t do my job as well as I should, I feel ashamed. Working on Sports Personality of the Year twice as a co-presenter and then being dropped was a pretty major blow. But hey, it happens.

When away from the public eye how do you like to relax?

I walk Archie (which is not always as relaxing as it might be, depending on how he is behaving), I play golf, I ride occasionally, I ski and I love to read.

If you were embarking on your career all over again would you change anything?


What new challenges do you see for yourself in the future?

There are always challenges. I aim to improve in every way – there is a long way to go! The Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing will be immense and very different. I can’t wait for London 2012, which will be the highlight of my working life.

Finally, Clare at your age, it is, perhaps somewhat premature to contemplate my final question, but how would you like to be remembered or doesn’t it really matter?

As someone who brought sport alive and kept people interested.